If you go to myfordfreestyle.com and do a search using the interior thread on the forum, there is some discussion on which is more useful. We ultimately went with the bench second seat to have the one extra seat space in the vehicle. Our thought was based on the number of family members that might visit us, which adds to 7 total. Keeps us from needing to take two vehicles.
Others on there like having the center console in the rear for storage. I would say it is personal preference. We did sit in the third row before we bought it. It is comfortable to sit in for people our height, but not for an extended period of time due to not being able to move your feet around and continuing to remain comfortable. As for getting back there, it is equally as easy in both configurations- bench or buckets.
One thing I did forget to mention under gripes is our interior color, which is pebble (whitish-tan). On very sunny days, it does put a reflection on the windshield. It is not too annoying to me, but others may find it. If it may bother you, I recommend shale or black.
As I said, we like the car. I tried to do as much research as I could because I had a lot of the same concerns. I just really could not find many reasons not to like this. A lot of folks will nit pick on this and that. And for spending money on a new vehicle, they should to a degree. I have tried to remain objective about it, but I really do like it.
Wife & I have narrowed it down to a Freestyle vs Jeep Liberty CRD - Main reason we looked @ the liberty was the Diesel. We are going to go test drive both again & take the car seat w/ us to see how easy it is to get it in/out of both. I was surprised @ how small the liberty felt vs how it looks on the outside.
Can't speak for the wife but, I think the Freestyle may win out over the Liberty despite the Diesel option in the Liberty. Price works in the Freestyle's favor as the CRD is only avail on the limited edition Liberty which puts the price a good 3-4k over the mid level Freestyle. (25/26k vs 29/30K)
I drive a PSD so It would be nice to keep it an all Diesel family as we are today w/ the TDI. This would potentially be our 1st Gasser vehicle in about 5 yrs.
I have to clarify one point I made in my post so I am accurate. At 65mph, my 3.5L Nissan Altima with a 4spd auto turns 2300-2400 rpms. At 65 mph, the Freestyle turned 1700-1800 rpms. I got to thinking about it and drove both today along the same route to make sure.
That should bode well for fuel mileage. I have not driven it in any terrain other than relatively flat, so we will see.
Since we have a 5 month old son and move from car to car, I can tell you getting the seat in and out of the Freestyle was easy. I do not know what is important to you in the overall scheme of things (room, some off-road capability, road manners, etc...) but we liked the surprising amount of room the Freestyle has. Especially when the 3rd seat is down. I have never looked at a Liberty, but I almost bought an X-Terra instead of this (long story). The lack of a third row and the limited space made me think twice. However, the towing on the X-Terra (5000lbs.) almost made me buy it.
Sounds like you are doing the righ thing and trying them out. Best way to do it. Good luck.
We rented a Freestyle for a long weekend trip a while back. I really liked it. But (there's always a but, right?), with four adults and some luggage I felt it was underpowered. We did almost the same trip with a Windstar a year ago, and found it more powerful. IMO.
Right now, I'm driving a 2004 F-150 Supercab. It goes back next July and I'd really like to get a Freestyle. I liked it the moment I saw it. I love the room in my truck but, the backseat for carrying things or the convenience of putting my grandson back there in his car seat is very limited. I like the idea of all that room in the Freestyle. My wife looked at a picture of it but, said, that's a station wagon and I don't want a station wagon. I tried telling her it's not really considered a SW but, it looks more like an Explorer that sits closer to the ground. Still got all the room of an Explorer but, better fuel economy and less expensive to purchase. I'm glad I read what some of you had to say about it. I still hope to get one but, we'll see. I'll miss my truck for it's hauling capabilities from Home Depot but, time to go back to a more car like vehicle.
My son bought a 2005 Freestyle today with the CVT, AWD, split bench on the 2nd seat, no sunroof, and cloth seats. It has 64,000 miles on it and runs great. Maybe people take off faster than I do, but it seemed to have good pickup. There are no rattles. Everything seems tight. Before the purchase, he did notice something in the front during the test drive. It was the right front hub. The dealer replaced it before he picked it up.